Heart of Gold

It is 10,227 to this day when I carried the best bundle of joy, a precious Gift that I ever carried in my arms – just seemed that the entire family waited for that day for lifetime to see her appearance into the world. The first Girl of the family in generations and how lucky we are to be her parents, uncle, aunt, cousins and most importantly Grandmother. (I so badly want to add Arun into the equation but then let me confirm if he really is :-P)

A lot of what I write here maybe a repeat, because she never ceased to be the great human being she was ever since she came along – it only got better? To write instances will need Terrabytes of webspace, but suffice to say “Trust me, ask anyone who has crossed her path – what I said is truth and nothing but truth”

From that day on 3rd April 1993, to a being a bride last year and first Birthday as a wife, you have grown gracefully into an amazing young (and beautiful – my genes you see) woman. You are that human being that I often wished I could be. You are beautiful, confident, smart, and well-liked by everyone.

This was the journey so far. My Precious one in my Arms at 28 hours and 28 years

Thank you Divine, for this wonderful gift – Akhila a.k.a. Divya – who has been more a friend than a daughter. It is always tough to write my heart out in limited abilities with words – because there is so much to write and to choose some is a challenge when it comes to writing about you. To start with, incredibly proud of you darling for the way you managed our expectations, by and large exceeded meeting it. You made up more than for small little disappointments when in the rare event you did not meet it. Looking back, it was great that you yourself set such a high expectations on yourself, which means you never ever felt you are undeserving of anything great that the creation has on offer.

As I have kept saying, I only pray that you continue to remain as confident and experiment. Best learning we all drew from you is not to be afraid of making mistakes. Many doors opened due to that, a lot of lessons learnt making you even greater person. As some wise man (don’t know why it has to be a man always :-P) said mistakes create the path to the amazing life one can aspire for later.

Isn’t it a great virtue of how you make friends and people are so easily drawn to you – highly magnetic feature that is everyone’s envy. You can go to a God forsaken place, half way across the globe, or into a desert, where you know nobody, yet I am sure you will come back with loads of new friends (and yet a few more of Whatsapp groups, Amma would say this). No adversity has ever dragged you down as we saw over the years. Just shed the moment and keep moving forward. I pray to the Divine that all these characteristics are never lost on you ever.

You are the best daughter, best grand-daughter, niece, sister, cousin, friend and now (assumedly) a great wife too. Keep smiling like you do while you make light of navigating the worst and most choppy seas of challenges. The way you, Arun and Vishnu managed along with everyone in the family those days when a lot of us were down with Covid, was simply unbelievable. Made it so easy for all of us to come out of it unscathed. Those words you wrote after it was over (in a week) was very touching – not showing any worry outside but what you were going through was so evident in that FB/Insta post. WoW Darling – You are unmatchable

Loads and loads of love from all of us here

Happy birthday Di, my beautiful and invaluable Friend! It’s still unbelievable that it is 28 summers ago on this day that we met for the first time – as a few minutes old, 3.1kg lively “staring” bundle. Keep your chin high and stay happy and progress in life retaining all those great traits that you possess. I love you more than you will ever know. Have a lovely day and a great year ahead.


From Grateful Dad

On this special day, here is my pick for you (or rather for me)

Time Flew away…It’s Pearl Day

Yes, 3 decades to be precise and so what. With a Pilot like Aparna, it is has been such a delightful flight. Thank you dear one for 30 years of tolerating me with a smile (make it 37 years if we add the years after we met for the 1st time and thank God again, 7 years did not change your mind despite me). I claim the privilege to have met someone at 16 and continued to go on and on forever and here we are batt(l)ing at 30 not out.

Looking back, there are so many things I could talk about. Was it love at first sight (yes, maybe), Did it ever occur that marriage is where we were headed? (I don’t want to answer, I don’t want any injury on 31st March revealing the truth) When did we know we are meant for each other (no idea, and it does not matter – WE ARE TOGETHER AND THAT IS WHAT MATTERS) and here we are. What an amazing Journey it has been and I am sure it shall be for years to come.

When someone asked me if looking into each other’s eyes is Love, I shared a piece I wrote earlier (25th Anniversary) You can read that here Thanks I am Not-a-Philosopher

As I said then and I say that still “ Real love is not looking at each other but looking together in same direction”

Is real love looking into each other’s eyes?

And for those young ones who wonder, it has not always been “Flying” – only time flew. We also had our share of challenges which was easily navigated (easily may be exaggeration but it was made to look so easy). That is why I consider myself so lucky. That calming, comforting and reassuring shoulders next to you matters a lot. That is why I always tell people around me, I don’t celebrate Wedding Anniversaries or Birthday, We all Celebrate Her! She is the one who ensures that none of us feel even at the lowest moment that the glass is even half empty (in reality it may be stone dry). That is what she means to my (and all others’ lives)

And the biggest gift to the family was the two gems of our lives – so carefully nurtured and values instilled, it takes a big thing to be a mother to growing up children and a husband to a demanding husband. She fit the role to the T, while she kept the household going in all respects.

So here it is from all of us, Happy Wedding Anniversary Aparna. You are amazing indeed. Thanks for being you.

File Picture

I was told by a friend that 30th wedding Anniversary is called the Pearl Anniversary (now you know the significance of the title of this piece). BTW! With a Pearl around, Pearl anniversary should be the name every year. I am sure everyone who knows her would agree with this.

I said this before and I repeat same lines – I have nothing else to add, year after year and after each birthday and wedding anniversary, except to say that it has only got better, like the wine. It has been an amazing journey for me with her presence. As they say in Mechanical Engineering, a perfect fit. People ask me how does it work, the relationship that kept blossoming, the love that multiplied, family and no of extended family getting larger and larger, yet what clicks and where do you find the time to nurture the relationship. My honest answer was “I don’t know! It is her and all credits to her”  For no rhyme or reason, it is simply working well and Thank Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji of the Art of Living and also the Divine who chose to shower infinite blessings on me, by bringing her into my life.

Though Bachelor Boy by Cliff Richards was the rage those days, thank God, I chose to fall in love with this number by Lionel Richie “Always and Forever” (I saved this for today knowing for sure that we will get here and Word! WE GOT HERE INDEED)

Sabarimala Pilgrimage – Kettunira or Palli Kattu

This is the second part of the Sabarimala Pilgrimage series. This part covers the Kettu Nira or Palli Kattu process.

You can read the first part on Maladharana Process by clicking this link =>  Sabarimala Pilgrimage – Maladharana

Disclaimer: There is no one right way for any of the processes of Sabarimala Pilgrimage. What is indicated here is the practice followed as handed out by my Guruswamy (my father and then my brother) over the years. Please follow what your Guruswamy prescribes

Irumudi (literally meaning Iru = two and Mudi = Knot/Bundle) is the second most significant material process after Mala dharana (material process differentiated from Vrata Anushtanas, which is essential and mandatory spiritual practice explained in the first part). Before we come to the ingredients, the front compartment is called Munmudi (the bundle in the front) This has offerings for Lord Ayyappa and other Deities in Sannidhanam. The rear compartment called Pinmudi (the bundle at the rear) has the ingredients meant for Pilgrim’s use enroute. There is a practice at some place to carry offerings for Vavar in the middle portion.

Munmudi Circled in Red, Pinmudi in Yellow

Munmudi Circled in Red, Pinmudi in Yellow

Munmudi Circled in Red, Pinmudi in Yellow

Ingredients of Irumudi 

  1. Mudra Coconut/Theniganakayi/Thenga
  2. Ghee
  3. Kaani Ponnu (a Coin as offering)
  4. Golden Thaali (Mangalsutra) and Golden Choori (Dagger). This is offered only by a Kanni Swami, first time Pilgrim, a custom that we follow, and not seen others doing this.
  5. Betel leaf and Nuts
  6. Defibred Coconut (with water) – 3 nos
  7. Turmeric Powder
  8. Kumkum Powder
  9. Sandal Powder
  10. Puffed Rice (aralu/malar) (We carry it powdered)
  11. Vibhuti Powder
  12. Camphor
  13. Agarbatti
  14. Rose Water
  15. Rice
  16. Honey
  17. Jaggery Block (Acchu Bella)
  18. Paddy grains
  19. Turmeric Stem
  20. Black Pepper
  21. Sugar Crystal (Kal-sakkare)
  22. Sweet Rice Ball (Akki Unde)

Item 1-5 is offered to Lord Ayyappa,

Item 6 (1 coconut for breaking  at 18 Holy steps while ascending , 1 coconut for Malikapurattamma and 1 for breaking at 18 Holy steps before we leave Sannidhanam after all processes.

Item 7-10 is for Malikappuram

Item 11-13 is for performing and offering  Karpoora  Deepam.

Item 14 Rose water is sprinkled on tired Swamis which acts as a good refreshing wash

Item 15-17 Rice, Honey and Jaggery (in the earlier days this rice was used for cooking enroute. With enough eateries that have sprung up, this is offered to Temple Authorities for preparation of Payasam or Vellari Naivedyam)

Item 18-21 For offering to Vavar Swamy

Item 22 is Offered into the forest at Apacchi Medu (as a feed at the abode of Bhootas, guarding the shrine)

Mudra Coconut: Process of preparing it for Filling ghee. This is the Coconut that is defibred and cleaned, water removed and Ghee filled during the Irumudi Kattu process. Extremely important offering for Lord Ayyappa as this is the coconut into which we fill Ghee for performing Abhishekam to the moorthi of the Lord.

Defibring Coconut: In the left hand is cocunut soaked to soften. It is then scrubbed against rough surface like stone till the fibres are completed removed and smoothened. Result is seen in the right hand

Defibring Coconut. Soaked in water after defibring

Defibred Coconut soaked in water

The defibred coconut easily develops crack if not soaked in water As seen in photo above, once defibring is done coconut is soaked in water well until it is ready for draining of water within.

Piercing one of the three eyes of the coconut

Draining the coconut water after piercing the eye

Once it is totally drained, it is kept upside down to ensue it is completely drained

Defibred and drained Coconut kept for ensure complete removal of water.

Mudra Coconut or Thenginakai or Thenga is now ready for filling of Ghee during the Irumudi process

Significance of Mudra Coconut Thenginakkayi or Thuppada Kayi or Nei Thenga

Coconut represents the Human body that needs to be maintained in highest levels of purity since the Lord is Shuddha Chaitanya. Each Mudra Coconut signifies  Physically, mentally and spiritually cleansed devotee who himself is called Ayyappa throughout, signifying oneness with the Lord and Lord differentiating the devotee from Himself. Defibring signifies removal of external or physical impurities. The draining of sweetened water symbolizes the cleansing of inner sensual pleasures. Thus the container, the Body is now ready to accept and get filled with Life Source.

Filling of Ghee into Mudra Coconut (Called Nirakkal)

Ghee in general is used in most rituals due to it’s inherent Satvik qualities. Ghee is believed to have got created when  Prajapati, churned it with his hands, and used it to spawn his own offspring. In short, ghee is tied into the most fundamental life forces. Thus filling of Ghee into defibred and sweet water drained coconut signifies a Bhakta purified at all levels of Existence and also complete state of surrender to the Lord. In Sabarimala, the Ghee is removed from the coconut by carefully breaking it and offered to Lord Ayyappa for Abhishekam and the coconut is offered to the fires of Homa Kunda. Again this symbolises mortality and limits of physical body which is perishable, but cleansed inner self in the form of Ghee reaches and merges with the God.

Irumudi kettu Nira or the process

A basic puja is performed to Lord Ganesha and Ayyappa and other Deities and a Mangalarati is offered to the lamp in front of which the Kettu nira is performed. It is always done by the Pilgrim under the guidance of a Guruswamy, who plays a critical role in the entire process. While the Irumudi kettu is in process, Continuous Sharana Ghoshams are chanted by the team and all present there.

Mangalarathi to set the process in motion

Generally, during a pilgrimage as a group, Irumudi kettu nira starts with the Kanni Swami (the first time Sabarimala Pilgrim, if there are many, youngest among them starts).

Guruswamy helping the Kanni Swamy to fill the Mudra Coconut with Ghee

 For those who cannot make the Pilgrimage for any reason, they can take a vow to send the Ghee filled coconut through one of the pilgrims. As a rule a Kanni Swami cannot carry extra Mudra Coconut. In case any of his/her family members have taken a vow, someone else in the group will carry it in the Irumudi on their behalf

Mudra Coconut being filled as a part of the vow. This malikappuram, the author’s daughter has undertaken Sabarimala pilgrimage with 41 days Vrata 9 times, before she reached age of 10. She is now ready to wait till 50 years of age

In a designated sequence, each of the ingredients are filled into the Irumudi bag/sanchi and knotted by the Guruswamy into a shape that can be easily carried on the head of the pilgrim.

Filling of rice

Importance of offering rice in Irumudi.

In the olden days, in dense forests from Erumeli to Sabarimala, there were no means of food other than what is carried by the pilgrims. The entire family of the Bhakta offers a handful of rice into Irumudi (our practice, not sure if everyone else does that) and that is used enroute at camps to make fire and cook as their food. These days, the rice is exchanged in Sannidhanam for Vellari Naivedyam (White cooked rice) which is consumed as Prasada by the Devotee.

Once, all the ingredients are filled into the Irumudi sanchi, Guruswamy performs the kettu, or knotting

Handing over completed Irumudi Kettu for Viri

This completes the Irumudi Kettu Process. Last person to perform the Nira and Irumudi Kettu is Guruswamy himself and thereafter a mangalarati is performed to all the Irumudis that are arranged  (called the Viri)

Arati to all Irumudi that are in the Viri

Once all the processes are over, Guruswamy in the same order of Filling (Nira) places the Irumudi of the Pilgrim on their head. The Pilgrim offers a Dakshina to the Guruswamy prior to this and the pilgrim departs from the venue backwards, in order not to show his back to them lamp.

Kettu Enthal or carrying of Irumudi

A coconut is broken on the stone as we set off from venue of Irumudi kettu

A coconut is broken on the stone as we set off from venue of Irumudi kettu

And the Vahana Puja is performed once all pilgrims have boarded and they set off on to the Pilgrimage with continuous Sharana Ghoshams

We also have a practice of lighting a lamp to the stone on which the Coconut is broken during departure, every morning and evening by the family members. All conditions, reverence that is accorded to the Swamis on Vrat is accorded to this stone. This stone represents the entire group of pilgrims that have embarked on pilgrimage and the pilgrimage is considered over once they return and break a coconut on the same stone.

Note: I have attempted to explain the entire process based on my experience and practices handed over to me by my Guruswamies.  As I write this piece, I am on vrat for my 54th Pilgrimage with my Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji’s blessings and Lord Ayyappa’s grace, leading a group of 30 Pilgrims including 5 Kanni Swamis.

Please let me know if there are any errors, I would humbly accept them and make the corrections

Swami Sharanam